During his 35 years as a journalist-a third of them as ABC's White House Correspondent-Brit Hume has honed his skill as a veteran political reporter. The anchor of the 6 p.m. news hour Special Report With Brit Hume will lead Fox News' coverage of Tuesday's election results. Hume took time to talk with B&C's John M. Higgins about blogs, audience interest and the media's role in the races.
How are you handicapping this election?
Historically, there's a shift in Congress after the president has been in office for six years. The big question is whether this is a garden-variety six-year change or something bigger. The way it shapes up now, it looks like something along the lines of a traditional six-year election. You have to adjust your expectations because there's been so much redrawing of districts to save seats, that many fewer seats are in play now than there used to be. I suspect the Democrats will take the House but may not take the Senate.
Voters generally have less interest in midterm election years. What's the audience's interest level?
Pretty high for our viewers. The people who appreciate Fox News are people with a political consciousness; they're aware of politics, and they tend to tune us in.
What do you think the media might learn?
There are always some surprises. If it doesn't turn out to be big for the Democrats, we'll all be scratching our heads about polling. We're in an age where we're questioning the polling, because of such a bad result from the 2004 polls predicting that John Kerry would end up better. This year, you won't have exit-polling calling congressional races. We'll be calling them on actual vote tallies.
The race to call a political contest has become absurd. How does this affect your thinking?
You've got a lot of junkies out there flipping around looking for calls. If you don't make them quickly, you're going to lose audience. You can't ignore it.
How are the media doing this cycle?
Mixed. Look at the John Kerry story. His remarks to the students about Iraq blew up into the biggest news story of the day. There was a hesitance to play the story straight. We were right on it. Show what he said, compare it to what he said he claims he was trying to say. But it was on something like page A8 of The New York Times and The Washington Post. Perhaps those other organizations decided it wasn't really a substantive story; perhaps you overplayed it.
For that day or two, it was pretty significant, and here's why: There is an undercurrent in every presidential election going back I don't know how far, which is whether the Democratic party has sufficient regard for and trust in the American military forces in the conduct of our foreign affairs.
This kind of attitude comes out in a multitude of ways and is an underlying real issue and one that comes up time and time again.
Now here we are in the middle of this pivotal election, where the party's nominal leader, the man that carried their standard for them in 2004, says-not for the first time-disparaging things about the people serving in Iraq. Now he says he didn't mean to say them, but on their face, they are what they are.
Then it becomes a legitimate question of how Democrats react to that. These were pretty big people. The president of the United States. The leaders of the parties. Look at the blogs, where a lot of American political discourse occurs today; they were filled with it. To say that wasn't a big story, that's offensive. It seems to me that it's misleading.
Do the media devote too much time to the negative political ads?
I don't. We play them at the end of the show because they're funny. Sometimes we do more. I don't like the reporters that try to police them, tell you what's true and what's not.Most political ads are arguably true and arguably false. It you start trying to get into issues of truth and falsity, you end up doing what the candidates do, which is arguing. My view is, let 'em play. The truth is, negative ads work.
What do you think about Katie Couric's performance on the CBS Evening News? After all, she's on against you're show, stealing viewers.
So far not. I think the broadcast networks' news audience is largely what they inherit from the local stations' news.People don't rely on them for news the way they once did. Now, the do have large numbers. But the glory days are over for them. The question is whether our glory days are past, too, all cable channels, because of the Internet. That's where we need to be concerned.
Fox is the top cable news network, but lags on the Internet
I think we do ok. we could do better and want to. I believe at the end of the day that on the TV and Internet we all need the same elements. Everyone is going to need good reporters and smart producers and editors. Look at one of the most popular news and information sites on the Internet Drudge Report. Technologically it's totally backwards. It's a white page and black writing. It's popular because it's well edited, in a smart way with good news judgment. Now they're scavenged from all kinds of sources. But they're making a lot of smart interesting choices. Whatever you think of Matt Drudge, you have to read it. It proves validity of smart editing and sharp reports. If you have those, you'll succeed.
Do the networks pay too much attention to the political blogs? There's an awful lot of people just gassing.
A good, sharp-eyed blogger can sometimes spot an angle to a story that no one else has the time to do.
What do you see as the problem with Fox News' ratings?
The news this year has been less compelling. There's a sameness about it. We're down some; others are down less. CNBC is, but it's starting from such a low number, it's like going from zero to 0.1.Fox News CEO Roger Ailes is pretty agitated.
Roger is an extremely competitive man. Roger doesn't just want to beat the competition, he wants to fling them down and dance on them. Roger is ferociously competitive. I like that attitude.